Gut Health, Digestion and Inflammation | Top 5 Spices that Enhance Gut Microbiome
Do you remember the last time your felt fluttery butterflies in your stomach?
Maybe, you were anxious about an upcoming deadline, excited about a new job or received a smile from your not-so-secret crush.
Now, what do all these different emotions have in common?
Fluttery butterflies in your stomach are the result of chemicals released by your brain, as a response to your environment, that are directly effecting your gut. Keep on reading as we share the science behind the Gut as your second Brain, and it has nothing to do with feeling hungry or consuming food.
Human Microbiome — More Bacteria than Human
The 3 “Ps” of Gut Health: Prebiotics, Probiotics and Polyphenols
Gut as a second brain analogy refers to the importance and complexity of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in digestion of food, storage of energy and removal of waste. The gut plays important roles in creating essential nutrients that you can’t live without, improving function of organs, and combating pathogens, infection and disease. Strong GI system has been linked to numerous total body health benefits including greater immunity, lower inflammation, and decrease of metabolic diseases, cancers and neurodegeneration.
To do all these things, the body hosts trillions of micro-organisms that make up the microbiome (also known as gut flora). This unique environment of unicellular organisms is super important to overall health and needs to be balanced through proper foods or prebiotics.
In this article, we’ll discuss what microbiome is and how nutrients within Elevate Chai Blend can improve gut power, metabolism and immunity.
Human Microbiome — More Bacteria than Human
Have you ever wondered as to how the body is capable of doing so many big and complicated things?
The short answer, we possess massive biochemical armies that live within us and do much of our bidding.
Our body consists of about 10 trillion cells, and hosts another 37. 2 trillion or so of single cell organisms like bacteria, fungi and viruses. This overall collection of micro-organisms is called a microbiome. These microbiomes also hold their genetic material (within us), roughly 3.3 million genes, compared to our own human genome of 22,000. That’s a 150 times microbe-to-human difference.[3,4]
So, technically we are more bacteria than human.
Microbes live on our skin, mouth, nasal and vaginal cavities but, majority reside in the digestive tract. Each body area presents specific environment that caters to certain populations and species of microbes—producing unique microbiome.
The gut microbiome is often called gut flora and is the most diverse community made of up to 10 main bacterial strains (phyla) which diversifies into 500-1000 different species. These microbes help digest foods that we otherwise can’t produce and nutrients that we don’t have machinery for (like vitamin K and short-chain fatty acids). Microbes also compete for real-estate and prevent other invading pathogens from setting up camp to cause disruptions and disease.[4-5]
To make things more complicated, microbiomes are specific to each person and vary in bacterial species and populations. Our lives differ based on individual work, daily activities, stressors and habits. The GI microbes adapt to person’s lifestyle responding to environmental factors that we as hosts create.[6,7] Things like diet, metabolism and stress affect the gut flora, changing certain bacterial populations which can have negative implications including illness and disease of metabolic, immune and behavioural origin.[6-9] Studying microbiomes is a tall order which gave rise to specific sciences such as metabolomics and metagenomics.
The 3 “Ps” of Gut Health: Prebiotics, Probiotics and Polyphenols
The word probiotic comes from the Greek for “support of life”. Probiotics are live micro-organisms like bacteria or yeast that are found in certain foods or supplements. These microbe cultures are often grown by fermentation process in foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir and alike, and shown to produce numerous health benefits. However, these cultures are often fragile to outside environment (like heat) and majority don’t survive the digestive bile acids, before reaching the colon. Also, since each person’s microbiome is unique, the probiotic’s effectiveness varies.
Prebiotics are non-digestible (fiber) part of foods found in bananas, onions, garlic, beans and skin of apples. Not every fiber is “prebiotic fiber” as it has to be utilized by gut bacteria. Prebiotics go through small intestine undigested and are fermented by the time they reach large intestine (colon). This fermentation process feeds the good bacteria (including additional probiotics) which grows and increases desirable populations and overall microbiome of the gut. Each prebiotic’s effect also varies from person to person, due to high diversity of each microbiome and our individual life factors which influence growth. The choice of prebiotics is similar to probiotics and often becomes a form of trial and error. Prebiotics have also shown health benefits including improved immunity and reduced risk of metabolic diseases.
Some products are pro-biotics, others are pre-biotics, while some contain both and are called synbiotics. One example of synbiotic food is sauerkraut. There is a lot of discussion among scientists in terms of what constitutes a synbiotic and their overall effectiveness.[10-11]
Polyphenols come from plants and are the largest group of phytochemicals with over 8000 identified compounds thus far. Majority of polyphenols are strong antioxidants that combat inflammation and oxidative stress. All polyphenols are made from phenolic backbone (variation of alcohol [OH-] attachments to benzene rings [also called phenyl]) that separate into 4 groups called: flavonoids (largest class with over 4,000 identified compounds), stilbenes, lignans, and phenolic acids.
Majority of polyphenols pass through small intestine and arrive at the colon’s microbiota to produce numerous health benefits. Polyphenols are selective and act like prebiotics by increasing populations of good bacteria strains (like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria), and slow down the growth of pathogenic species (like Staphylococcus and Salmonella). Colon’s microbiota breaks down polyphenols into bioactive metabolites (like phenolic acids—powerful antioxidants). Such metabolites and alike are absorbed into blood stream by process known as phase II metabolism or remain inside colon to further aid in microbe activity. Bacteria-metabolite processes are a very active research topics with evidence linking to numerous health benefits from improving metabolic type diseases, inflammation, auto-immunity, cancers, bacterial and viral infections and neuro-degeneration to name a few.[13-16,22]
Stress—Cause of Gut Issues
Feeling “butterflies” or being “nauseous” is a physical response of the stomach to a feeling or emotion generated within the brain. Sometimes the emotion can be very stressful triggering sharp stomach pains, and long term intestinal distress may result in neurological conditions like anxiety or depression.
How can a psychological feeling in the brain cause a physical problem in the gut and vice versa?
It’s because the gut and brain are much more connected than we realize. The gut is a vital part of body’s survival and has its own enteric nervous system (part of autonomic nervous system) to control, transmit and respond to all of the functions of the digestive tract. ENS has around 500 million neurons (about five times more than in the human spinal cord), which sends and receives signals to and from every cell of the GI tract.
Science attributes life related stressors to gut inflammation which contributes to digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastro-oesophgeal reflux disease (GORD), and peptic ulcers. We’ve already discussed how gut microbes respond and adapt to changes in diet. However, increasing evidence shows that same gut microbiota also responds and adapts to our (host) stress-related signals.
What does that mean for us?
Well, that’s the “gut feeling” term we use to describe the brain-gut connection which occurs every time we stress about work deadlines, money, family, and so forth that in turn generates not only “butterfiles” or “gut-wrenching” discomfort but also triggers changes in the digestive system and its microbiome.
Spices Combat Stress and Inflammation
Digestive system is complex and pivotal to our survival. It has its own nervous system and is home to largest microbiome made up of thousands of different microbe species which influence their host’s well being. All this neurobiology, chemical machinery and symbiotic partnerships are affected by stress, nutrition, environment and inflammation.
To improve gut issues, pre- and pro-biotic products are often recommended. Such diets are often trial and error, as there is no way to predict exact microbiome make-up.
However, one method stands above all.
It includes active compounds which improve numbers of the good bacterial cultures, battle the bad strains, and fight all types of inflammation. These compounds react with free radicals, decrease oxidative stress and protect our systems, organs, cells and DNA from damage. These compounds are polyphenols, majority of which happen to be powerful antioxidants.
The foods with high antioxidant levels are often referred to as superfoods. Data from these products have been placed in charts (ORAC value) and provided for the public. If we look at the ORAC values for most potent antioxidant foods, most happen to be spices and herbs. These numbers confirm what our ancestors knew about spices thousands of years ago and used them as healing agents.
At DUPIsCHAI, we merge the knowledge of ancient medicines with modern science to create blends using the most powerful superfoods on earth—spices.
Top 5 Spices that Enhance Gut Microbiome
The GI tract contains many highly specialized cells responsible for digestion, absorption, protection and communication, which can all be damaged by stress and inflammation. It also holds massive microbe populations that greatly contribute to above functions and our well being. The spices below have been loaded with polyphenols and intestinal metabolites which greatly improve gut metabolism, function and microbiota. Let’s take a closer look.
Black tea leaves were first discovered in the Assam district of India and come from Camellia sinensis assamica plant. The oxidative preparation of the leaves produces several unique polyphenols (flavonoid class) like theaflavins and thearubigins that give black tea its distinct colour, flavour and variety of health benefits. Due to their larger size, black tea’s polyphenols and phytonutrients alike serve as prebiotics by passing through small intestine into the colon to be used by gut bacteria and broken down into various metabolites. These metabolites enhance the growth of good bacteria while inhibiting bad strains. And, once absorbed into blood stream, they act as potent antioxidants by scavenging and neutralizing free radicals and inflammation.
For decades, obesity has been linked to numerous metabolic conditions. Black tea can boost energy metabolism through specific gut bacteria strains. The polyphenols of black tea improve weight loss by reducing bacterial species linked to obesity while increasing strains associated with lean body mass and energy metabolism. Black tea metabolites inhibit fat cell growth, improve glucose and fatty acid metabolisms and shown to be a more effective weight loss product than green tea (popular weight-loss product).
Over 5000 year history places ginger as one of the most used dietary condiments in the world. The flavour and smell makes this rhizome popular for numerous culinary recipes as well as healing tonics. Ginger is loaded with hundreds of bioactive ingredients predominantly gingerols and shogaols which shown to procure many digestive benefits. It has been a common remedy to treat nausea, vomiting, indigestion and many other inflammation based diseases.
6-gingerol is ginger’s mightiest anti-inflammatory and antioxidant weapon shown to help with indigestion and acid reflux through speeding up the emptying of the stomach contents. Ginger can improve emptying times by 25 to 50 percent, resulting in less stomach acid exposure and reduced indigestion symptoms. Indigestion can also be a symptom of stomach ulcers, which are inflated lining of the stomach. Ginger’s potent antioxidants like 6-gingerol and 6-shogaol reduce aspirin causing ulcers by decreasing activity of inflammatory causing proteins (TNF-alpha). Ginger can also help various microbiomes by inhibiting drug-resistant bacteria.
Made from the inner bark of the Cinnamomum tree, cinnamon smells and tastes delicious and is loaded with powerful phytonutrients. This power of a spicepacks quantity and quality of active ingredients likeeugenol, quercetin, epicatechin, cinnamtannin B1, cinnamaldehyde, earning it #3 spot on the ORAC (267,536) chart.
Carbs or sugars come in all sizes, and larger ones (like maltose) often bypass the small intestine and end up entering the colon. The large sugars are then fermented and feed the wrong type of bacteria resulting in abdominal pain, flatulence and diarrhoea. Science found that cinnamon can help several metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes by controlling sugar metabolism, improving insulin sensitivity and improving good-to-bad cholesterol ratio. Also cinnamon slows down the breakdown of sugars during digestion by inhibiting sugar metabolizing enzymes such as intestinal maltase [which breaks apart larger sugars (maltose) into smaller ones (glucose)]. This also decreases the overall amount of sugar (glucose) that enters the bloodstream and colon.
Cinnamaldehyde is another powerful compound of cinnamon and is a key focus of cancer research. As in tumour cells, cinnamaldehyde has been shown to slow down growth of several types of problem causing bacteria in the digestive tract.[34,35]
Cardamom is a relative of ginger and turmeric and is loaded with phytonutrients like terpenes, flavonoids and propanoids. Its 4000 year history dates back to ancient Egypt where it became famous for medicinal and aromatic properties. Active ingredients within cardamom produce powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and shown to combat and reduce several types of harmful fungi and bacteria.[36,37]
Cardamom can improve digestive process by enhancing secretion of stomach’s bile acid. Its mighty antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds stimulate overall metabolism and reduce various intestinal discomforts like acid reflux, heartburn, stomach cramps and diarrhea, along with aspirin and alcohol induced ulcers through limiting inflammation causing proteins(TNF-alpha).
Nutmeg seed consists of oil (predominantly myristic acid), starch and essential oils which hold numerous phytonutrients (terpenes and phenylpropanoids) such as sabinene, 4-terpineol and myristicin. These compounds are strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents that advance numerous health benefits.
Ayurveda medicine commonly uses nutmeg to improve digestive issues like diarrhea. Science confirms nutmeg’s ability to reduce diarrhea in animal models. Nutmeg is also a strong anti-microbial product and found to inhibit growth of harmful strains of E. coli bacteria (like O157) which causes illness and sometimes even death.
Ground nutmeg retains its fiber which stimulates digestive track improving the peristaltic movement (symmetrical contractions and relaxation of smooth intestine muscles) of intestinal pathway. Nutmeg also contains several important elements including iron, magnesium, zinc and manganese. These ingredients improve digestive system while easing constipation and bloating. The fiber further binds to bile salts (produced from cholesterol) reducing their re-absorption in the colon and lowering LDL (aka “bad”) cholesterol levels.
The dark colour, star shape and liquorice-like flavour are easily identifiable features of star anise. Its powerful phytonutrient lineup include estragole, eugenol, anethole, pipene, d-terpineol, linalool and limonene which are also found in other well researched spices (like fennel, cinnamon, cloves and anise seed). These polyphenols and other elements like iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium and manganese enhance digestion, improve enzymatic activity and decrease bloating issues.
Anethole is a big research topic and has shown to decrease abdominal pain in patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). As a potent antioxidant, anethole can reduce alcohol causing stomach ulcers. Star anise also comes with anti-fungal benefits defending against harmful mold and yeast strains such as Candida albicans (C. albicans). C. albicans is the most common microbiome strain living in the skin, mucus membrane and GI tract that can cause problems when colonies grow out of control. Anethole is again shown to inhibit growth of fungal strains like C. albicans.
Traditionally star anise has been steeped as a “tea tonic” to stop the growth of dangerous fungi and bacteria. Ingredients like shikimic acid, anethole and linalool in star anise are all mighty antibacterial agents and shown effective in stopping 67 different antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains like E. coli.
DUPIsCHAI—Bulletproof Your Gut
The GI tract is a complex system responsible for material breakdown, transport, absorption as well as excretion of waste. Many of the processes are done by our own specialized cells, but much of the workload is performed by internal microbiota. The gut microbiome is one of the most studied topics linking to numerous health benefits as well as risks. Growth of some microbe species leads to better health, while growth of other strains triggers illness and disease.
So how do we know, which ones to feed and grow?
Below is a quick capture of how we’ve tried to solve this dilemma.
Probiotics – The Thing of the Past
Probiotics are often live bacteria and yeast cultures produced in large quantities and consumed in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha. These products date back to ancient Egypt and are mentioned in the Bible. Studying this fermentation process even earned a Russian scientist a 1907 Nobel in Medicine.
However, this was a one size fits all type of method as probiotic products are filled with large counts of specific microbe cultures. But, with each microbiome being unique to its host, identifying exact population imbalances is fairly difficult and involved task. Without specificity, probiotics are usually a trial-and-error thing as each culture containing product can either produce a benefit or, a side effect. Some problems that can be caused by probiotics include excessive flatulence, bloating, or an allergic reaction (histamine release).[48,49]
Prebiotics – The Thing of the Present
Prebiotics are carbohydrates mostly or exclusively made out of soluble fiber which is not easily digested. Oligosaccharides are common prebiotics that include lactulose, inulin, oligofructose and alike, which can be utilized by specific bacteria. Prebiotics are generally created/purified in a lab and served in high doses as supplements to feed specific bacterial and/or yeast cultures. Similar issue arises once more, as to which cultures are in need of growth? This is where prebiotics run into the same issue as probiotics. Feeding too much of one or another can either do nothing, improve symptoms or cause adverse effects like flatulence, diarrhoea bloating and making your stomach more acidic. Another prebiotics caveat is their price tags, which are high for a trial-and-error proposal.
Polyphenols – The Thing of the Future
Polyphenols are plant made compounds containing symbolic “aromatic ring” structures. There are over 8000 identified compounds, and we’ve seen recent articles which push the number to 9000 plus. Most of them act like a “heat seeking missiles” designed to reach targets, supply benefit or unleash fury.
Polyphenols come in classes, vary in size and strong enough to survive the stomach acids. About 10% of ingested polyphenols get absorbed in small intestine with the rest majority moving into the colon to be broken down into metabolites and nourish the good gut cultures while inhibiting the bad ones.[13,15]
Polyphenol metabolites are also absorbed into our blood stream where they go after free radicals, reduce inflammation and protect tissues, cells and genetic material from oxidative damage.[15,16] Polyphenols that remain inside the colon improve absorption of other nutrients or used by various bacterial enzymes for further gut function and health.[13,15]
Polyphenols are the next generation prebiotics which are abundant in fruits and vegetables, and are inexpensive. But, the most potent polyphenol products on the planet are spices. This is why DUPIsCHAI blends contain three times the amount of spice compared of any other tea/chai product and are the most potent forms of all natural polyphenols available on the market.
Our body is a true super-organism made up of complex operating systems along with trillions of living microbe populations. These microbiomes are housed throughout body cavities with the largest stationed in our digestive tract. The GI tract is intimately connected to the brain through millions of specialized cells, trillion of microbes and its own nervous system. Each microbe population adapts to the environment, stresses and diets of its host.
To keep the good bugs healthy and pathogenic bugs in check, we employ variety of products known as probiotics (more bacteria cultures), prebiotics (digestible fiber) and polyphenols (multipurpose active phytonutrients). As prebiotics and probiotics are more of trial and error methods with varying results due to microbiome’s individuality, the polyphenols quickly becoming front runners of gut health and function.
These plant-based phytonutrients nourish the right microbes, fighting the wrong ones, and protect cells and pathways inside and out of the digestive system. Polyphenols are the ultimate combat weapon against body inflammation and oxidative stress.
Spices have the highest polyphenol content compared to all plants. At DUPIsCHAI, we pride ourselves on creating holistic blends which support and enhance wellbeing and performance.
Elevate your Gut Power with 100% real ingredients loaded with polyphenols.